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Difference Between Conversion and Civil Theft

A recent case discusses the distinction between a conversion claim and a civil theft claim.  Guess what? It’s a minor distinction, but one with a huge difference.

In Batista v. Rodriguez, 49 Fla.L.Weekly D1099a (Fla. 3d DCA 2024), the allegations were that people wrongfully received checks from a woman’s bank account. These checks were the result of people taking advantage and exerting undue influence over the woman. A letter was sent demanding a return of the money and the money was not returned. The woman was found to be incapacitated and the woman’s guardian filed a lawsuit for conversion and civil theft.  The trial granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the lawsuit with prejudice.  This was reversed on appeal.  The key issue, here, is the distinction between these two claims: conversion and civil theft.

Conversion is “the exercise of wrongful dominion and control over property to the detriment of the rights of its actual owner. Where a person having a right to possession of property makes demand for its return and the property is not relinquished, a conversion has occurred.”  Cellphones Distribs. Corp. v. De Surinaamsche Bank, N.V., 357 So. 3d 225, 229 (Fla. 3d DCA 2023) (citations omitted).

In Joseph v. Chanin, 940 So. 2d 483, 485-86 (Fla. 4th DCA 2006), the Fourth District held that a third-party recipient of money wrongfully transferred to her could be liable for conversion after the owner of the money requested the recipient return the money to her and the recipient refused to do so.


A claim for civil theft is conversion plus felonious intentWorld Cellphones Distribs. Corp., 357 So. 3d at 230 (“Civil theft . . . is a statutory form of conversion that essentially consists of ‘conversion plus criminal intent.’ ” (quoting Gokalp v. Unsal, 284 So. 3d 1097, 1099 (Fla. 4th DCA 2019))); § 772.11, Fla. Stat. Because [plaintiff] stated a claim for conversion against [defendants], to allege a claim for civil theft against them, he only had to generally allege felonious intent — which he did.

Batista, supra.


Please contact David Adelstein at [email protected] or (954) 361-4720 if you have questions or would like more information regarding this article. You can follow David Adelstein on Twitter @DavidAdelstein1.


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